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Kidnapping assailant pleads guilty

William Ritter, accused of kidnapping and torturing a Port Orchard man on Oct. 31, pleaded guilty to first-degree kidnapping, first-degree robbery and intimidating a witness.

The other man accused in the crime, Jaymes Gardner, has not accepted the plea bargain offered by the prosecutor’s office. His trial was re-set for Jan. 30.

Ritter also pleaded guilty to forgery and residential burglary the same day. Those charges were part of a separate case, but were tied into the kidnapping.

By accepting the plea bargain, Ritter avoided other charges the state might have brought against him in trial, including first- and second-degree assault, first-degree rape and a deadly weapon enhancement to the other charges.

“He made an assessment of his risks, and I assume he made his decision based on what he thought was best for him,” said deputy prosecutor Neil Wechter, who was assigned to the case.

Even so, the charges to which Ritter pleaded guilty carry a heavy penalty. The standard sentencing range for the most serious charge, kidnapping, is between 149 and 198 months — 12 to 16 years — in prison. The maximum sentence for both the kidnapping and the robbery charge is life in prison and a $50,000 fine.

Both the robbery and kidnapping charges are also “strike” offenses. In accordance with Washington law, anyone who is found guilty of three strike offences is sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of release.

However, Wechter pointed out, the code also states that a defendant can only acquire one strike per case. Otherwise, Ritter would only have needed one more strike to be sent to prison for the rest of his life.

Wechter also said although each charge will be sentenced separately, the sentences will be served concurrently, instead of consecutively. This means the sentence for the most serious crime, kidnapping, will carry the most weight in actual time served.

The prosecutor’s office has recommended a 180-month sentence on the kidnapping charge, which is just slightly above the midpoint of 175 months. Ritter has nearly 20 prior convictions, which played a role in the state’s sentencing recommendation. However, most of the charges were some form of theft or narcotics possession, which may have also prompted the prosecutor’s office not to seek the most severe penalty.

Ritter is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 14.

Gardner was supposed to stand trial Dec. 26, but problems finding him a court-appointed attorney have led the trial to be delayed for more than a month.

Dick Jones, Gardner’s fifth attorney, said the previous lawyers appointed all had to be dismissed for conflict-of-interest issues. Jones said attorneys will automatically be dismissed from a case if they have information about the defendant, a co-defendant or a witness which might affect their ability to try the case.

In the case of Gardner, the majority of the lawyers had previously represented his co-defendant, Ritter, which made them ineligible to represent Gardner.

Jones said this was not an unusual problem, at least “not in this community.”

Jones requested the court delay in order to have adequate time to investigate and prepare the case. The judge granted the continuance over Gardner’s objections. According to a letter he sent the presiding judge, he did not want to waive his rights to a speedy trial.

“(The case) got to me so late in the game, I had less than two weeks before trial,” Jones said. “And that’s not enough.”

Although he said the courts are very busy this time of year, the independent investigator assigned to the case has assured him all the interviewing and background work can be done in time for the trial.

The current charges against Gardner are first-degree kidnapping and intimidating a witness. However, Jones said he knew of several other charges, including rape and robbery, which the prosecution could introduce should the matter go to trial.

Jones said he doesn’t know why Gardner rejected the plea bargain — he wasn’t Gardner’s lawyer when the plea was first offered. Nevertheless, he has asked the prosecutor’s office to leave the offer on the table at least until he can compile the majority of the evidence.

A status hearing has been scheduled for Jan. 15, at which point Jones expects the prosecutor’s office will want a final answer.

“The prosecutor has a right to know what we’re going to do at some point and time,” he said. “The prosecutor totally controls it. It was very gracious of Neil Wechter to leave it open.”

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